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Bhishma
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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======

Bhishma


Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Section XLVII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Whatever, O Bhishma, thou wilt say unto the enquiring son of Pandu (Yudhishthira), will be regarded on earth to be as authoritative as the declarations of that Vedas. That person who will conduct himself here according to the authority of thy declarations, will obtain hereafter the reward of every meritorious act.

Krishna

Addressing king Yudhishthira:

Vasudeva (Krishna|) said: That tiger among men, Bhishma, who is now lying on a bed of arrows, and who is now like unto a fire that is about to go out, is thinking of me. Hence my mind also was concentrated on him. Collecting all his senses and concentrating his mind by the aid of his understanding, he sought my refuge (by thinking of me). It was for this that I had centred my mind upon him. I was thinking of that hero of mighty energy and great intelligence who possesses a knowledge of all the celestial weapons as also of the four Vedas with all their branches and who is the receptacle of the sciences.

I was thinking of that foremost of all persons conversant with morality and duty, of him, O bull of Bharata’s race, who knows the Past, the Future, and the Present. After that tiger among kings shall have, in consequences of his own achievements, ascended to heaven, the earth, O son of Pritha, will look like a moonless night. Therefore, O Yuthishthira, submissively approaching Ganga’s son, viz., Bhishma of terrible prowess, question him about what you may desire to learn, O lord of the earth, and enquire of him about the four branches of knowledge (in respect of morality, profit, pleasure and salvation), about the sacrifices and the rites laid down for the four orders, about the four modes of life, and about the kingly duties in full.

When Bhishma, that foremost one of Kuru’s race, will disappear from the world, every kind of knowledge will disappear with him. It is for this that I urge thee (to go to him now).

[Hearing these beneficial words of high import from Krishna, the righteous Yudhishthira, with voice choked in tears answered Krishna]

Yudhishthira said: What thou has said, O Madhava (Krishna) about the eminence of Bhishma, is perfectly true. I have not the slightest doubt regarding it. I had heard of the high blessedness as also the greatness, of the illustrious Bhishma from high-souled Brahmanas discoursing upon it. Thou, O slayer of foes, art the Creator of all the worlds. There cannot, therefore, O delighter of the Yadavas, be the slightest doubt in what thou sayest. If thy heart were inclined to show grace, O Madhava, then we shall go unto Bhishma with thyself at our head. When the divine Surya (sun) shall have turned towards the north, Bhishma will leave (this world) for those regions of bliss that he has won. That descendant of Kuru’s race, therefore, O mighty armed one, deserves to have a sight of thee.

Vaisampayana said: Bhishma, with mind concentrated upon Krishna, said, ‘Salutations to Krishna!’ and bowed unto Krishna. Learning by his Yoga prowess of the devotion of Bhishma, Madhava (Krishna), otherwise called Hari, (entering his body) bestowed upon him heavenly knowledge compassing the Past, the Present and the Future, and went away. When Bhishma became silent, those utterers of Brahman (that sat around him) with voices choked in tears, adored that high-souled chief of the Kurus (Bhishma) in excellent words. Those foremost of Brahmanas (Brahmins) uttered the praises of Krishna also, that first of Beings, and then continued in soft voices to commend Bhishma repeatedly. Learning (by his Yoga powers) of the devotion of Bhishma towards him, that foremost of Beings, viz., Madhava (Krishna), suddenly rose from his seat and ascended on his car (chariot). Krishna and Satyaki proceeded on one car. On another proceeded those two illustrious princes, viz., Yudhishthira and Dhananjaya (Arjuna). Bhimsena and the twins rode on a third; while those bulls among men, Kripa and Yuyutsu, and that scorcher of foes, Sanjaya of the Suta caste, proceeded on their respective cars.

Then Hrishikesha (Krishna) and king Yudhishthira, and all those persons headed by Kripa, and the four Pandavas, riding on those cars looking like fortified cities and decked with standards and banners, speedily proceeded to Kurukshetra with the aid of their fleet steeds. They descended on that field which was covered with hair and marrow and bones and where millions of high-souled Kshatriyas had cast away their bodies. It abounded also with many a hill formed of the bodies and bones of elephants and steeds, and human heads and skulls lay stretched over it like conch-shells. Variegated with thousands of funeral pyres and teeming with heaps of armour and weapons, the vast plain looked like the drinking garden of the Destroyer himself used and abandoned recently. The mighty car warriors proceeded, viewing the field of battle haunted by crowds of spirits and thronged with Rakshasas.

Krishna of unfading glory and Yudhishthira proceeded there where the puissant son of Ganga (Bhishma) lay on his bed of arrows. They then beheld Bhishma stretched on his arrowy bed and resembling in splendour the evening Sun covered with his own rays. The Kuru hero (Bhishma) was surrounded by many ascetics like he of a hundred sacrifices by the deities of heaven. The spot on which he lay was highly sacred, being situate on the banks of the river Oghavati. Beholding him from a distance, Krishna and Dharma’s royal son (Yudhishthira), and the four Pandavas, and the others headed by Saradwat, alighted from their vehicles and collecting their restless minds and concentrating all their senses, approached the great Rishis. Saluting those foremost of Rishis headed by Vyasa. Govinda (Krishna) and Satyaki and the others approached the son of Ganga (Bhishma). Beholding Ganga’s son of great ascetic merit, the Yadu and Kuru princes, those foremost of men, took their seats, surrounding him. Bhishma looking like a fire about to die out, Kesava (Krishna) with a rather cheerless heart addressed him as follows:

Krishna said: Are thy perceptions now as clear as before? I hope thy understanding, O foremost of eloquent men, is not clouded. I hope thy limbs are not tortured by the pain arising from the wounds by shafts. From mental grief also the body becomes weak. In consequences of the boon granted to thee by thy sire, the righteous Santanu, thy death, O puissant hero, depends on thy own will. I myself have not the merit in consequence of which thou hast obtained this boon. The minutest pin (inserted) within the body produces pain. What need then be said, O king, of hundreds of arrows that have pierced thee? Surely, pain cannot be said to afflict thee. Thou art competent, O Bharata, to instruct the very gods regarding the origin and dissolution of living creatures. Possessed of great knowledge, everything belonging to the Past, the Future, and the Present, is well known to thee. The dissolution of created beings and the reward of righteousness are well known to thee, O thou of great wisdom, for thou art an ocean of virtue and duty.

While living in the enjoyment of swelling sovereignty, I beheld thee forgo female intercourse though sound of limbs and perfectly hale and though surrounded by female companions. Except Santanu’s son Bhishma of great energy and firmly devoted to righteousness, possessed of heroism and having virtue for the only object of his pursuit, we have never heard of any other person in the three worlds that could, by his ascetic power, though lying on a bed of arrows and at the point of death, still have such a complete mastery over death (as to keep it thus at bay). We have never heard of anybody else that was so devoted to truth, to penances, to gifts, to the performances of sacrifices, to the science of arms, to the Vedas, and to the protection of persons soliciting protection, and that was so harmless to all creatures, so pure in behaviour, so self-restrained, and so bent upon the good of all creatures, and that was also so great a car-warrior as thee. Without doubt, thou art competent to subjugate, on a single car, the gods, Gandharvas, Asuras, Yakshas and Rakshasas. O mighty armed Bhishma, thou art always spoken of by the Brahmanas as the ninth of the Vasus. By the virtues, however, thou hast surpassed them all and art equal unto Vasava himself. I know of best of persons, that thou art celebrated for thy prowess, O foremost of beings, among even the very gods. Among men on earth, O foremost of men, we have never seen, nor heard of any one possessed of such attributes as thee. O thou of the royal order, thou surpassest the gods themselves in respect of every attribute. By thy ascetic power thou canst create a universe of mobile and immobile creatures. What need then be said of thy having acquired many blessed regions by means of thy foremost of virtues?

Dispel now the grief of the eldest son of Pandu (Yudhishthira) who is burning with sorrow on account of the slaughter of his kinsmen. All the duties that have been declared in respect of the four orders about the four modes of life are well known to thee. Everything again that is indicated in the four branches of knowledge, in the four Hotras, O Bharata, as also those eternal duties that are laid down in Yoga and Sankhya philosophy, the duties too of the four orders and these duties that are not inconsistent with their declared practices; all these, along with their interpretations, O son of Ganga, are known to thee. The duties that have been laid down for those sprung from an intermixture of the four orders and those laid down for particular countries and tribes and families, and those declared by the Vedas and by men of wisdom, are all well known to thee. The subjects of histories and the Puranas are all known to thee. All the scriptures treating of duty and practices dwell in thy mind. Save thee, O bull among men, there is no other person that can remove the doubts that may arise in respect of those subjects of knowledge that are studied in the world. With the aid of thy intelligence, do thou, O prince of men, drive the sorrow felt by the son of Pandu. Persons possessed of so great and such varied knowledge live only for comforting men whose minds have been stupefied.

Since, O bull among men, thy devotion to me is very great, for this, O prince, I have displayed my celestial form to thee. I do not, O foremost of kings, display myself unto one that is not devoted to me, or unto a devotee that is not sincere, or unto one, O Bharata, that is not of restrained soul. Thou art devoted to me and art always observant of righteousness. Of a pure heart, thou art always self-restrained and ever observant of penances and gifts. Through thy own penances, O Bhishma, thou art competent to behold me. Those regions, O king, are ready for thee whence there is no return (not subject to rebirth). Six and fifty days, O foremost one of Kuru’s race, still remain for thee to live! Casting off thy body, thou shalt then, O Bhishma, obtain the blessed reward of thy acts. Behold, those deities and the Vasus, all endued with forms of fiery splendour, riding on their cars, are waiting for thee invisibly till the moment of the sun’s entering on northerly course. Subject to universal time, when the divine Surya (sun) turns to is northerly course, thou, O foremost of men, shall go to those regions whence no man of knowledge ever returns to this earth! When thou, O Bhishma, wilt leave this world for that, all knowledge, O hero, will expire with thee. It is for this, that all these persons, assembled together, have approached thee for listening to discourses on duty and morality. Do thou then speak words of truth, fraught with morality and Yoga, unto Yudhishthira who is firm in truth but whose learning has been clouded by grief on account of the slaughter of his kinsmen, and do thou, by this, quickly dispel that grief of his!

Vaisampayana said: Hearing these words of Krishna fraught with morality and profit, Santanu’s Bhishma, answered him in the following words:

Bhishma said: O master of all the worlds, O mighty armed one, O Siva, O Narayana, O thou of unfading glory, hearing the words spoken by thee I have been filled with joy. But what words (of instruction), O master of speech, can I say in thy presence, when especially in all the subjects of speech have been dealt with in speech?

[Note: The Vedas constitute the speech of the Supreme Being. Everything about morality occurs in them.]

Whatever in either world should be done or is done, proceeds from thy intelligent self, O god! That person who is competent to discourse on the subject of heaven in the presence of the chief of the gods himself is competent to discourse on the interpretation of morality and pleasure and profit and salvation in thy presence.

My mind, O slayer of Madhu, is exceedingly agitated by the pain of arrow wounds. My limbs are weak. My understanding is not clear. I am so afflicted, O Govinda (Krishna), by these shafts resembling poison or fire that I have not the power to utter anything. My strength is abandoning me. My life-breaths are hastening to leave me. The very vitals of my body are burning. My understanding is clouded. From weakness my utterance is becoming indistinct. How then can I venture to speak? Be gratified with me. O mighty armed one, I will not say anything. Pardon me (for my unwillingness). The very master of speech (Vrihaspati), in speaking in thy presence, will be overcome by hesitation. I cannot any longer distinguish the points of the compass, nor the sky from the earth! Through thy energy, O slayer of Madhu, I am only barely alive. Do thou, therefore, thyself speak for the good of king Yuthishthira the just, for thou art the ordainer of all the ordinances. How, O Krishna, when thou, the eternal creator of the universe, art present, can one like me speak (on such subjects) like a disciple in the presence of the preceptor?

Vasudeva (Krishna) said: The words spoken by thee are worthy of thee that art the foremost one of Kuru’s race, thee that art endued with great energy, thee that art of great soul, and thee that art possessed of great patience and conversant with every subject. Regarding what hast thou said unto me about the pain of thy arrow wounds, receive, O Bhishma, this boon that I grant thee, O puissant one, from my grace. Discomfort and stupefaction and burning and pain and hunger and thirst shall not, O son of Ganga, overcome thee. O thou of unfading glory. Thy perceptions and memory, O sinless one, shall be unclouded [Note: Literally: Everything thou knowest shall appear to thee by inward light.] The understanding shall not fail thee. The mind, O Bhishma, freed from the quality of passion and darkness, will always be subject to the quality of goodness, like the moon emerged from the clouds. Thy understanding will penetrate whatever subject connected with duty, morality or profit thou wilt think upon. O tiger among kings, obtaining celestial vision, thou wilt, O thou of immeasurable prowess, succeed in beholding the four orders of created things. Endued with the eye of knowledge, thou wilt, O Bhishma, behold, like fish in a limpid stream, all created things that thou mayst endeavour to recollect!

Janmejaya said: when that tiger among men, of righteous soul and great energy, firmly adhering to truth and with passion under complete control, viz., the son of Santanu and Ganga, named Devavrata or Bhishma of unfading glory, lay on a hero’s bed with the sons of Pandu sitting around him, tell me. O great sage, what converse ensued in that meeting of heroes after the slaughter of the troops?

Vaisampayana said: When Bhishma, that chief of the Kurus, lay on his bed of arrows, many Rishis and Siddhas, O king, headed by Narada, came to that spot. The unslain remnant of the (assembled) kings with Yudhishthira at their head, and Dhritarashtra and Krishna and Bhima and Arjuna and the twins also came there. Those high-souled persons, approaching the grandsire of the Bharatas who looked like the sun dropped from the firmament, indulged in lamentations for him. Then Narada of godlike features reflecting for a short while, addressed all the Pandavas and the unslain remnants of the kings.

Narada said: The time, I think has come for you to question Bhishma (on subject of morality and religion), for Ganga’s son is about to expire like the Sun that is on the point of setting. He is about to cast off his life breaths. Do you all, therefore, solicit him to discourse to you. He is acquainted with the varied duties of all the four orders. Old in years, after abandoning his body he will obtain high regions of bliss. Solicit him, therefore, without delay, to clear the doubts that exist in your minds.

Thus addressed by Narada, those princes approached Bhishma, but unable to ask him anything, looked at one another.

Then Yudhishthira, the son of Pandu, addressing Hrishikesa (Krishna) said:

There is no one else than Devaki’s son (Krishna) that can question the grandsire. O foremost one of Yadu’s race, do thou, therefore, O slayer of Madhu, speak first. Thou, O sire, are the foremost of us all and thou art conversant with every duty and practice.

Thus addressed by the son of Pandu, the illustrious Kesava (Krishna) of unfading glory, approaching the unconquerable Bhishma, spoke unto him as follows.

Vasudeva (Krishna) said: Hast thou, O best of kings, passed the night happily? Has thy understanding become unclouded? Does thy knowledge, O sinless one, shine in thee by inward light? I hope thy heart no longer feels pain and thy mind is no longer agitated.

Bhishma said: Burning, stupefaction, fatigue, exhaustion, illness, and pain, through thy grace, O thou of Vrishni’s race, have all left me in a single day, O thou of incomparable splendour, all that is past, all that is future, and all that is present, I behold as clearly as a fruit placed in my hands. All the duties declared in the Vedas, all those laid down in the Vedantas, I behold clearly, O thou of unfading glory, in consequence of the boon thou hast granted to me. The duties that have been declared by persons of learning and righteous behaviour, dwell in my remembrance. I am conversant also, O Janardana (Krishna), with the duties and practices prevailing in particular countries and among particular tribes and families. Everything relating again to the four modes of life has come back to my recollection. I am acquainted also, O kesava, with the duties that relate to kingcraft. Whatever should at whatever time be said, I would say, O Janardana! Through thy grace, I have acquired an auspicious understanding. Strengthened by meditation on thee, I feel as if I have become a young man again. Through thy favour, O Janardana, I have become competent to discourse on what is beneficial (for the world). Why, however, O holy one, dost thou not thyself discourse to Pandu’s son upon all that is good? What explanation hast thou to give in respect of this? Tell me quickly, O Madhava!

Vasudeva (Krishna) said: Know, O thou of Kuru’s race, that I am the root of fame and everything that leads to good. All thing good or bad, proceed from me. Who on earth will wonder if the moon be said to be of cool rays? Similarly, who will wonder if I were described as one possessed of the full measure of fame? I have, however, resolved to enhance thy fame, O thou of great splendour! It is for this, O Bhishma, that I have just inspired thee with great intelligence. As long, O lord of earth, as the earth will last, so long will thy fame travel with undiminished lustre through all the worlds. Whatever, O Bhishma, thou wilt say unto the enquiring son of Pandu (Yudhishthira), will be regarded on earth to be as authoritative as the declarations of that Vedas.

That person who will conduct himself here according to the authority of thy declarations, will obtain hereafter the reward of every meritorious act. For this reason, O Bhishma, I have imparted to thee celestial understanding so that thy fame may be enhanced on earth. As long as a man’s fame lasts in the world, so long are his achievements said to live. The unslain remnant of the (assembled) kings are sitting around thee, desirous of listening to thy discourses on morality and duty. Do thou speak unto them, O Bharata! Thou art old in years and thy behaviour is consistent with the ordinance of the Srutis. Thou art well conversant with the duties of kings and with every other science of duty. No one has ever noticed the slightest transgression in thee from thy very birth. All the kings know thee to be conversant with all the sciences of morality and duty. Like a sire unto his sons do thou, therefore, O king, discourse unto them of high morality. Thou hast always worshipped the Rishis and the gods. It is obligatory on thee to discourse on these subjects in detail unto persons desirous of listening to discourse on morality and duty. A learned person, especially when solicited by the righteous, should discourse on the same. The sages have declared this to be a duty, O puissant one, if thou dost not speak on such subjects, thou wilt incur sin. Therefore, questioned by the sons and grandsons, O learned one, about the eternal duties (of men), do thou, O bull among the Bharatas, discourse upon them on the subject.

Vaisampayana said: Then endued with great energy, the delighter of the Kurus (Bhishma) spoke.

Bhishma said: I shall discourse on the subject of duty. My speech and mind have become steady, through thy grace, O Govinda Krishna) since thou art the eternal soul of every being. Let the righteous-souled Yudhishthira question me about morality and duty. I shall then be much gratified and shall speak of all duties. Let the son of Pandu (Yudhishthira), that royal sage of virtuous and great soul, upon whose birth all the Vrishnis were filled with joy, question me. Let the son of Pandu, who has no equal among all the Kurus, among all persons of righteous behaviour, and among men of great celebrity, put questions to me. Let the son of Pandu, in whom are intelligence, self-restraint, Brahmacharya, forgiveness, righteousness, mental vigour and energy, put questions to me. Let the son of Pandu, who always by his good offices honours his relatives and guests and servants and others that are dependent on him, put questions to me. Let the son of Pandu, in whom are truth and charity and penances, peacefulness, cleverness, and fearlessness, put questions to me. Let the righteous-souled son of Pandu, who would never commit a sin influenced by desire of Pleasure or Profit or from fear put questions to me. Let the son of Pandu, who is ever devoted to truth, to forgiveness, to knowledge and to guests, and who always makes gifts unto the righteous, put questions to me. Let the son of Pandu, who is ever engaged in sacrifices and study of the Vedas and the practice of morality and duty who is ever peaceful and who has heard all mysteries, put questions to me.

Vasudeva (Krishna) said: King Yudhishthira the just, overcome with great shame and fearful of (thy) curse, does not venture to approach thee. That lord of earth, O monarch, having caused a great slaughter, ventures not to approach thee from fear of (thy) curse. Having pearced with shafts those that deserved his worship, those that were devoted to him, those that were his preceptors, those that were his relatives and kinsmen and those that were worthy of his highest regard, he ventures not to approach thee.

Bhishma said: As the duty of the Brahmanas consists of the practice of charity, study and penances, so the duty of Kshatriyas is to cast away their bodies, O Krishna, in battle. A Kshtriya should slay sires and grandsires and brothers and preceptors and relatives and kinsmen that may engage with him in unjust battle. This is their declared duty. That Kshatriya, O Kesava, is said to be acquainted with his duty who slays in battle his very preceptors if they happen to be sinful and covetous and disgraceful of restraints and vows. That Kshatriya is said to be acquainted with his duty who slays in battle the person that from covetousness disregards the eternal barriers of virtue [Note; Literally: ‘the eternal bridge of virtue.’] That Kshatriya is said to be acquainted with duty who in battle makes the earth a lake of blood, having the hair of slain warriors for the grass and straw floating on it, and having elephants for its rocks, and standards for the trees on its banks. A kshatriya, when challenged, should always fight in battle, since Manu has said that a righteous battle (in the case of a Kshatriya) leads to both heaven and fame on earth.

Vaisampayana continued: After Bhishma had spoken thus, Dharma’s son Yudhishthira, with great humility, approached the Kuru hero and stood in his sight. He seized the feet of Bhishma who in return gladdened him with affectionate words. Smelling his head, Bhishma asked Yudhishthira to take his seat. Then Ganga’s son (Bhishma), that foremost of bowmen, addressed Yudhishthira, saying, ‘Do not fear, O best of the Kurus! Ask me, O child, without any anxiety.’

Vaisampayana said: Having bowed unto Hrishikesa (Krishna), and saluted Bhishma, and taken the permission of all the seniors assembled there, Yudhishthira began to put questions unto Bhishma.
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Related articles
Death and Life
The cremation of Bhishma (Rites of cremation)
Bhishma chooses the time of his death (The process of death)

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